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Farmer sends manure instead of milk

(Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2002 -- CropChoice news) -- Vermont resident Bob Hatch sent this story from the Sept. 25 edition of The Caledonian-Record News. "When I mentioned the story to a few people in other areas of Vermont and parts of New Hampshire, nobody had heard any mention of the story," Hatch noted.

by Carla Occaso

You get what you pay for.

That was Ryegate dairy farmer Gordon Murray’s belief when he sent a bag of cow manure in place of the usual milk shipment to the handler on Monday to protest low milk prices.

Murray dumped 2,800 pounds of milk out Monday rather than let it continue to be sold at such a low rate that he is barely able to survive.

"If you pay for shit, you should get shit," Murray said from his dairy barn Tuesday afternoon while cows in stanchions munched on grain.

To bring further attention to the situation, Murray hung an effigy of a farmer dressed in overalls dangling from a noose in front of his dairy barn with a sign stating, "USDA Hangs Farmers." The sign was referring to a recently announced delay in payments under the new U.S. Department of Agriculture national farm plan.

"The USDA has stalled out on proposed time frame for Milk Income Loss Contract program," said Ryegate dairy farmer Jenny Nelson, also a congressional aide to U.S. Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Farmers were told checks would be available Oct. 15, but have been delayed until Nov. 15 at the earliest, she said.

Prices farmers receive for milk have dropped from $17 to $11 per hundredweight since last October, which translates into a 30 to 40 percent drop. Cost-cutting measures to offset the drop in income cannot be made on dairy farms, Nelson said. "We can't turn cows off. They have to be fed and milked every day. You can't lock the door and let it sit idle until business picks up," she said.

In general this year, money paid to dairy farmers is at an all-time low, while retail prices remain roughly the same. Profits from milk sales are being pocketed by milk handlers and processors, Nelson suggested, saying, "somebody is getting some big bucks. There have been between 81 and 84 million dollars in lost revenue to farmers in the state of Vermont."

While farmers are getting lower prices for the product, the consumer pays the same price at the store for a gallon of milk.

As far as what to do about it, on a federal level, Nelson said more enforcement can be done to reduce milk protein concentrate being brought into this country from overseas and sold in cheese products.

Also, antitrust action could be brought against Suiza Foods, a milk handler that now controls 70 to 80 percent of fluid milk in the Northeast.

One dairy farming group is going to organize a boycott against a product that allegedly uses imported milk protein concentrate in their products, Nelson said. "There is about to be a boycott on Kraft Singles put on by Family Farm Defenders out of Wisconsin ... because it is made with milk protein concentrate (from) Europe and New Zealand."

On the local level, each farmer has his own style.

Murray sent a message by sending manure instead of milk to protest prices.

He milks 35 to 40 head of Jerseys out of a 120-head herd. Last year he got $5,000 from the milk, but this year, it is closer to $2,000, but said he hopes to get more profitable so his two sons can work on the family farm his father once ran.

Murray said most farmers are quiet about how bad the low prices are affecting them.

"Everyone is so hush-hush," he said. "They are hanging on for dear lives, and it isn't right. We should be at a higher value."